Are they nuts?

Robin Brownlee
January 01 2009 12:13PM

As Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish likes to say, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."

Fans can only assume, then, MacTavish and bosses Kevin Lowe and GM Steve Tambellini have seen enough in the wake of a 6-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on the final day of 2008 to understand they need to make a deal or maybe two before we get very deep into 2009. That, or check into a rubber room.

MacTavish's 29th-ranked killing units were abysmal yet again in Cowtown as the Flames powerplay lit them up for three goals in five attempts. No matter who MacTavish throws over the boards, it's like sending somebody to fight a fire armed with a can of gasoline.

Hand in hand with that miserable performance, MacTavish's centres got schooled in the face-off circles again. The All-Thumbs Unit of Shawn Horcoff, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner and Kyle Brodziak went 25-40 on the dot for 38 per cent (including 7-23 in the defensive zone).

Neither of these issues is stop the presses stuff.

Enough is enough

"We've got to find a way, or find some new guys that can kill penalties," an exasperated MacTavish said after his men in the middle and the PK soiled their straight-jackets again.

"It's been an aspect in our game from the start of the year and it's gone poorly from the start. We can't clear the puck when we need to. Somebody's got to step up and try to kill penalties or we're going to have to try and find somebody that can."

To be fair to the ATU, the Oilers feeble penalty-killing record doesn't rest solely with the pivots. That said, lost face-offs and lack of puck possession play a big part in it.

The biggest difference between this season and 2007-08, when the team was ranked fifth on the PK, is the Oilers have lost two key face-off men and penalty killers in Jarret Stoll and Marty Reasoner.

Stoll, shipped to Los Angeles with Matt Greene for Lubomir Visnovsky, is ticking right along with the Kings. He's ranked seventh in face-off percentage at 57.6. Reasoner, with Atlanta, is ranked 49th at 50.3.

By the numbers

Horcoff, ranked 36th, remains the Oilers best face-off man at 51.8 overall despite a hideous mark of 8-16 on a night he'd rather forget Wednesday. After Horcoff, it gets thin.

Brodziak, the only pivot to break even in Cowtown at 9-9, is rated 55th at 49.9. Gagner is 118-148 for 44.4 per cent. Cogliano is 107-179 for 37.4 per cent. Say no more.

So here we are. The aforementioned centres continue to work with assistant coach Bill Moores on face-offs after practice. They go through buckets and buckets of pucks on a daily basis. They're trying to get the hang of it, but the results speak for themselves.

At some point, as MacTavish said Wednesday, personnel trumps practice and the faces have to change.

Good and cheap

If I was Lowe, I'd be picking up the phone and putting the arm on old friend and confident Scott Howson in Columbus and inquiring about what it might take to get Manny Malhotra.

I can't think of too many reasons why I'd want a former first-round flop like Malhotra (seventh overall in 1998) on my roster, but there's no question the 28-year-old journeyman has an element the Oilers need.

When it comes to face-offs, Malhotra isn't only good -- he sits fifth in the NHL with a face-off percentage of 58.6 -- he's earning a relatively modest $1.5 million this season as he heads into unrestricted free agency.

Malhotra is 286-202 in face-offs overall, and he's a demon on the dot when the Blue Jackets are shorthanded. On shorthanded face-offs, Malhotra is 54-36. The other thing worth noting is he's better on the road at 59.5 per cent than he is at home, 57.6 per cent.

Pull the trigger

You'd think an efficient, inexpensive player like Malhotra and a chance to address face-offs and penalty killing might be worth a call from Lowe or Tambellini. Maybe -- again, I'm assuming evidence of this fatal flaw down the middle is sufficiently obvious -- the call has already been made. I'll try to find out in coming days.

In any case, even if it's a long shot, it's a far more attractive and likely proposition than trying to lure Stoll back from the sunny sands of Newport Beach or watching the ATU get schooled.

The way I see it, Moores can dump rubber on the dot until his right arm falls off and MacTavish can diagram the penalty kill until the cows come home, but it won't make a difference.

A trade will. Or, at least, might.

Aceb4a1816f5fa09879a023b07d1a9b4
A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 Deep Oil
January 02 2009, 12:35PM
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Cam wrote:

Jay wrote: @ Robin Now I agree their needs to be a change of personel, but there was nothing wrong with the old personel. Pardon?!? Did anyone else notice that they didn’t make the playoffs last year? Or was it just me…

didn't chicago kick savards butt to the club lounge and hired dui quenville (there is a lot of drinking in hockey) and now chicago is top 5 in the west with $12mm in goalies - so if we give garon, rollie and JDD - 3 million each - fire MACT - hire Pat Quinn next week - we should make the playoffs this year and make a run for the cup - simple

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#52 BUCK75
January 02 2009, 12:36PM
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Another misinformed rumour from the anonymous blogger says Jay-Bo to Edm for Penner, Just what we need - Another defenseman

I like the Sillinger idea, then he would have played for every team in the league. Malhotra would be nice, but why would Columbus give up on him? Somehow I think little Sakic will be back here, Atlanta would probably take a player from Springfield or a draft pick.

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#53 Deep Oil
January 02 2009, 12:42PM
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Terry Jones - jan 02 - Edmonton Sun - "This was my dream, and I really felt what we started in Edmonton has taken a special shape," said Patrick LaForge, the Oilers CEO who wasn't able to attend the game last year in Buffalo. OH WHY WAS LAFORGE NOT ABLE TO ATTEND????

Deep Oil - LaForge was not able to attend the Ice Bowl now called the Winter Classic after the NHL forgot to COPYRIGHT (ICBOWL)- last year in cosmopolitan Buffalo due to a "Your not welcome" from GM Darcy Regier - and we will run your ass out of town - don't ruin the party - stay the Fcuk home LaForge and tell Lowe the next time he goes after a FA in small market - he is pissing in his own back yard. It will be a warm day in January when the NHL returns to Canada for the Winter Classic - needs to be USA teams on RED WHITE AND BLUE SOIL for fans to watch it on NBC.

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#54 Deep Oil
January 02 2009, 12:51PM
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Is it true that the NHL is thinking of staging the Winter Classic in Scottsdale next year to save hockey in Phoenix (tempe stadium) vs Atlanta, Florida or Nashville - tickets are $20 with free parking, $10 gas card, all you can eat nachos and bud light and winter classic hat (in canada they call it a toque) and free sun tan lotion. Bettman to sing kum by ya with sean avery at the ten minute mark of the third period. Everyone that buys a ticket get another ticket to a YOTES game for 2011.

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#55 Deep Oil
January 02 2009, 01:06PM
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@ Chris: very few trades will occur until the CBA agreement can transfer, buy out and ask for cap forgiveness - bottom line is most GM's are pressured to spend to the cap and then are just trading contracts not players. This is evident once again with the non decision of Sundin to keep the teams hot and bothered until cap forced him to grow gills and play on the wet coast instead of the big apple. Just think what excitement the salary cap would be if you could buy other teams cap with cash, players or draft picks - then teams could have SOME flexibility with parameters set on how much you could increase the cap - or add a luxury tax of 100% for teams that want to pay to play.

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#56 Chris
January 02 2009, 02:51PM
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@ Deep Oil: Would be exciting. Just imagine how much money KLowe could give to Moreau, Staios, and Horcoff then.hockeysmack wrote:

Rewarding good soliders with these kinds of extensions is only a positive if your team has been, you know, successful.

KLowe has screwed this team. If everything comes together and works perfectly the Oilers will still not be a serious contender due to lack of size, depth, intangibles, etc. The bulk of the roster is locked up long term to contracts Tambo can't move...

Let's just pretend the goal of this organization is to win a cup... In 1988 the Oilers had SIZE first and then a bunch of skill. History remenbers the skill. The opposition remembers the McSorely's, Krushelnyski's, Muni's, Beukeboom's, Hunters, etc. We took the cup by force. When Gretzky was traded who did he want to go with him..?..McSorely and Krushelnyski. The 1988 NHL was WAAAY more free wheeling and offensively oriented than todays "New NHL"...yet the 1988 Oilers were probably a bigger team than what we have today. Do we have a pest like Tikkanen? Does Cole drive the net with the same authority as Anderson? Is anyone afraid of Stortini? I've been watching the 10 best games DVD over the Holidays and I've noticed something startling. Every shift...EVERY shift someone was rubbed out, smashed, flat out destroyed. Bob Coles voice never raises, there are no replays...a big hit is commonplace and expected. (Sometimes the camera doesn't even adjust toward the contact if the puck is moving away) Something important has been lost in this organization. Maybe we can't replace Gretzky and Messier but it is inexcusable that Lowe never remained committed to filling his team with character players. Grit players outnumbered soft skill player 3 or 4 to 1, and THAT is what truly made this franchise great. Lowe was there! How is it that he forgot what it takes to win?

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#57 Cam
January 02 2009, 02:58PM
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You guys are funny. You complain about the lack of grit and strength on the team and then talk about trading Moreau and Cole, who are the two biggest hitters on our team.

It's like saying you want skill and then talking about trading Hemsky.

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#58 Chris
January 02 2009, 03:12PM
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@ Cam: I never said trade Moreau and Cole. Trade Horcoff, Nilsson, Cogliano, Gagner, Pouliot, Brodziak, Gilbert, Grebeskov, Schremp, Reddox, Brule, Garon, Omark, Eberle, any other skill player with abilities less than Hemskey. Hemskey is a skill player. Maybe some of these guys can elevate their game into that category (Gagner, Eberle)

However, if your game is not up to, or near to, Hemskey standards: than you are NOT a skill player. You are a passenger or a prospect. We need size and grit to win consistantly. Great teams impose their will in any type of contest...very few players on this roster are capable of contributing much to a truly great team... and yet KLowe has spent nearly to the cap.

The Oilers are Okay. We can probably still make the playoffs if minor changes are made... but looking at what we have, and what we have coming, there is no cup in the forseeable future.

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#59 Chris
January 02 2009, 03:16PM
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@ Cam: Klowe has forgotten how to win. He traded Smyth for Nilsson. Case Closed.

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#60 rindog
January 02 2009, 03:18PM
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Here is a little food for thought....

After 36 games:

In 2006/07 we were 18-16-2 (38 points)

In 2007/08 we were 16-17-3(35 points)

this year we are 17-16-3 (37 points)

Considering that we have heard nothing but excuses the last two years (injuries, lack of a puck moving defenseman, lack of a stud defenseman, lack of a top line winger, etc) shouldn't our points be way higher this year considering we have pretty much been healthy and added those missing components???

Wasn't it MacT himself that stated we should be much more competitive this year, maybe even contend for the divsion?

I don't get it?????

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#61 hockeysmack
January 02 2009, 03:22PM
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@ Chris: Agreed on the no cup thing. The club has no talent outside of Hemsky that would be truly coveted by other clubs. If the Oil make the playoffs, they will get their collective asses handed to them by whoever they play in the first round. Management will then draft a smallish forward in the mid-teens. I will then drink myself into a 2-day coma, while shaking my head in disbelief. MacT will recieve a contract extension, and K-Lowe (sorry, Steve-T) will sacrifice 3 picks to sign a flash-in-the-pan RFA. Pisani will then recieve a 3 year, $10 million dollar contract after scoring 4 goals in 4 playoff games. Good times.

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#62 Chris
January 02 2009, 03:28PM
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@ rindog: Chris wrote:

The Oilers are Okay. We can probably still make the playoffs if minor changes are made

I stand corrected.

We are not okay. When they lose a game like the one to Ottawa the Oilers make things incredibly difficult for themselves... Then they play well and lose in Calgary... now you have a MUST Win against Dallas. Lose and you are back at .500, on a three game skid, Coach on the hotseat, etc, etc. Same old story.

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#63 Deep Oil
January 02 2009, 05:13PM
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@ Chris: I would personally love to have Avery and Tootoo on the Oil - but who on the team would stand up and show Avery the Oil way - Mess is retired and it seems that the Oil are soft and Moreau is a leader but more of a Jason Smith type leader - guy gets respects but no fear.....

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#64 Deep Oil
January 02 2009, 05:25PM
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@ Chris: Trading a player at trade deadline results very often in bargain basement orphans - the problem here as stated in the past is that KLOWE needs to make himself feel important on that trade and signs BOBBIE for 5.5 million while MACT berates his work effort on NYI - sounds like KLOWE is creating long term problems with coach killer work ethic - the list of average players on this team earning double what they should make in the relative nhl salary scheme is a joke - but when you are sold out and the only game in town - the management can do no wrong and anyone that would throw stones at KLOWE will be banished or blackballed in terms of info, scoop, or access - and in the end you get 630 ched with memos not to badmouth the oil blah blah blah - corporate bullsh*t - thankfully i choose to listen to gregor (truth) instead of an apology after the game... when was the last time you heard from LOWE or puppet Tambellini - they are muted.

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#65 Cam
January 02 2009, 05:49PM
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@ Deep Oil:

I think the fact we aren't hearing from Tambo or K-Lo is because they ae working on something and want to talk to everyone AFTER they announce it. I would be surprised if there isn't at least a inor change here in the next two weeks.

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#66 topshelf
January 02 2009, 06:00PM
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@ Cam:

Is this what you want to happen or do you have a credible source?

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#67 Deep Oil
January 02 2009, 06:58PM
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with much respect cam - they can WORK all they want - but they need a dance partner and trades in the nhl are as common as outdoor games - one a year.

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#68 KayleW
January 02 2009, 08:13PM
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Has Jordan Staal been extended longterm by the Pens or is there a possibility that they might not fit him in with the cap going down next year? If I recall he's a damn good penalty killer and a decent goal scorer as well. Pittsburgh is short on the back end so maybe we could move a d-man and a couple forwards for a guy like staal. Just a random thor I have had for a cpl days.

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#69 Chris
January 02 2009, 08:32PM
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@ Deep Oil: Aggree completely. KLowe has so completely screwed this team that it would be difficult for Tambo, Katz, or anyone new to blow things up and rebuild in less than five years. Nobody wants our current assets. NOBODY wants our vetrans contracts. UFA's won't play here. Our farm team sucks. Klowe has never had a five year plan... all his decisions have been poor reactions to even poorer initial decisions. LOWE MUST GOWE!

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